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Seat Ibiza FR 1.0-litre review: sporty supermini’s UK test

£17,625 when new

Car specifications

Budget
£17,625
Brake horsepower
115bhp
Fuel consumption
60.1mpg
0–62 mph
9.30s
CO2
108g/km
Max speed
121Mph
Insurance Group
12E

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What’s this. Still no new Seat Ibiza Cupra, I guess?

Not yet, but the sportier version of the standard Seat Ibiza is always what does the big numbers. Angrier mouth, bigger alloys, and behind all the bravado and “I am a hot hatch too, grrr” bravado, a modest 1.0-litre, turbocharged three-cylinder engine with 113bhp. Welcome to the Seat Ibiza FR. Don’t buy a Ford Fiesta ST-line just yet…

No, I think I will. Aren’t Ibizas just VW Polos genetically engineered to be thirty seven percent less nice?

The old one felt that way. And sure, if you root around the familiar-feeling cabin of the new one for ooh, about three seconds, you’ll spot a bit of hard plastic about the cupholders and door pulls and overwhelming fifty shades of grey surroundings. As in it’s all quite monochrome and boring, not that it’s full of leather, and stings after a while.

But the fundamentals are better than the last Ibiza. The switchgear is more logically placed. You sit lower. The steering wheel is wee. The touchscreen’s bigger, faster, and there’s a CarPlay ‘button’ next to the usual nav, radio and settings toggles. Switching in and out of an Apple device is refreshingly easy. This is Seat waking up, realising people who buy small cars are no longer willing to compromise; that feeling of being shortchanged out of good tech. It’s Seat wising up to trends. So the tech feels properly integrated. Just as well – the new Fiesta’s touchscreen-dominated cockpit is a bit of a triumph, so Seat’s upped the Ibiza’s game just in time.

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And the Seat is the roomiest supermini out there right now?

Easily. If you want to put adults in the back… then what are you doing buying a supermini? Seriously though, should you be a minicabber with a very small driveway, then yes, the Ibiza is almost comically spacious. Stick a six-foot passenger behind a similarly lofty driver and none of their extremities – elbows, head and other such gangly bits – will interface with the doors or roofline of the car. There’s even a good deal of light because the beltline doesn’t arc up aggressively. Someone’s thought this stuff through. Back window’s a bit of a letterbox, but there’s little else to complain about.

Good, so now you can tell me if it’s better to drive than the new Fiesta…

It’s close, and that alone proves just how far the new Ibiza has leapt in handling smarts versus the old car. It also bodes really well for the new Audi A1, VW Polo, Skoda Fabia and Seat’s Arona crossover, which will all use this ‘MQB A0’ platform with different body panels bolted to the essentially identical oily, spinny bits.

Pretty early on, you can tell the longer wheelbase has really helped the Ibiza. Even on 18in FR wheels, it deals with your patented rubbish British road professionally. It’s not just compliant, it’s also quiet, smothering the workings of its suspension much more subtly than say, a Citroen C3. In fact, the rolling refinement of the whole car is a definite improvement. Wind and engine noise are tidied up cleverly, and the tyre noise from the wider FR trim wheels isn’t wearisome.

Meanwhile, the wider track means the Ibiza is more planted in corners, but it still feels remarkably agile for a 1,140kg supermini. Have to admit, I’m a bit startled by that figure, having looked it up. Yes, it’s a sizeable ‘little’ car, and there’s obviously more soundproofing going on here than a playgroup band practice, but the Ibiza feels way, way lighter on its feet than say, a Vauxhall Corsa. It’s keen to turn in, quick-witted to change direction. It stops well, and will absolutely peg a 125bhp turbo Fiesta through second and third gear. Yes, we had an impromptu drag race on an airfield to check that out for you.

How does this engine fit in among the many, many triple-cylinder turbos?

It’s one of the better ones. Typically for a VW Group turbo petrol, what you gain in teeny turbo lag delay, you lose in top end performance, which might annoy us if this was a Cupra, but for the cooking models, it’s fine. Drive it like a diesel basically, getting into the throttle early and changing up on the light, slick six-speed gearbox before the revs get hot and bothered at around 4,000rpm. Overall fuel economy settled in the low forties as per usual, CO2 emissions are test-figured at a lowly 108g/km, and the car feels quicker than 9.3 seconds to 62mph and 121mph suggests. Long gearing slightly hamstrings it as a straight-liner, but settles the engine on the motorway.

How much, for all this box-ticked completeness?

For an Ibiza FR with this pleasant powertrain, it’s £16,630, which is competitive, but Seat’s gone after Mini’s tactic of option packs and our test car, complete with packs for Vision (parking sensors and camera), Storage (um, nets and that) and Dr Dre’s Beats hi-fi was a touch over £19k. Sounds like a lump of money, but everyone from Ford to Seat to Mini will tell you that most of their most popular superminis tend to be the ones towards the top end of the line-up, draped with options to stand out from the crowd that ironically follow the herd.

Among the supermini playground, the Ibiza’s gone from being a forgettable also-ran to a proper contender, matching the ace new Ford Fiesta on merit and probably making for some awkward meetings at VW HQ right now. Wonder if the new Polo can really better this thing…

Images: Tom Salt

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